When Tammy and I got married over 26 years ago, we looked forward to raising children who love Jesus. By the grace of God, we have witnessed the work of the Holy Spirit leading our two daughters and two sons to love, trust, and follow Jesus. The oldest is 24 and the youngest is 19, and each one of them has a personal relationship with the Lord.
I suspect that most Christian parents would have a few suggestions for anyone just beginning the journey of parenthood. After all, every Christian parent has a variety of life lessons from which to glean rich insights. Whenever parents walk "in the Spirit," (Gal. 5:16) it benefits the family. And whenever parents walk "in the flesh," (Gal. 5:13) it hurts the family.
Thankfully, the grace of God makes up much ground for believers when we fall short of the mark. Truly God is "rich in mercy" because of "the great love He has for us." (Eph. 2:4)
With that in mind, here are five parenting habits that have worked well in our home over the years:
1. Pray over each child from the day he or she enters your family.
It has been a tremendous joy to pray the "Aaronic Blessing" over each of our children thousands of times from the day they were born. I would lay my hand on their head and pray: "The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace."
The Holy Spirit flows powerfully whenever believers offer up faith-filled prayers for their children. And young hearts are profoundly influenced by the love of God and the loving prayers of their parents.
2. Seize teachable moments every day as you bring the love of Jesus into the discussion.
When our children were between the ages of 2 and 5, they often heard about God's love for them. During these formative years they began to know Jesus as both their friend, as well as their Savior who died on the cross for their sins. In this way, Christianity became the foundation of their entire life, rather than just "a set of doctrines to believe," or "an activity we do on Sunday" because dad is the pastor.
Rules without relationships lead to rebellion. This is true not only in the home, but also in a person's relationship with God. And the close relationship you develop with the Lord and with your children pays rich dividends as family members are then empowered to love one another with Christ's love.
3. Articulate boundaries while also allowing each child the space to "breathe" spiritually and enjoy their relationship with Christ.
Christianity runs much deeper than merely "obeying a set of rules." Obviously, every family needs rules. And the Lord certainly expects those in His family to do what is right, while saying "no" to what is wrong. But as you study the way Jesus "enforced" the rules with His disciples, you notice that much of the training was accomplished by the way the Lord treated the disciples. In fact, this is where some of the greatest discipleship took place as Jesus mentored these men to become "fishers of men." (Matt. 4:19)
And don't forget to make your home a place of great fun. If you enjoy your children, they will likewise enjoy you. And they won't be inclined to ever stop enjoying the time they spend with their family. This includes their teen years, when young people often find themselves facing some of life's toughest challenges.
4. Demonstrate confession and forgiveness frequently with your spouse and children.
As parents, we must be quick to apologize to our spouse and to our children when we have sinned against them. If we are not willing to "own" our poor behavior and quickly admit our transgressions to them, we run the risk of raising children who feel like it is "beneath them" to apologize to someone when they have done something wrong.
Admitting our sins to one another is a big step in keeping our soul humble before God. Man, by nature, is too proud to apologize to anyone for anything. But if our children are raised to "own" their sins and freely admit them in the family context, it will then become ingrained in them that God is always ready and willing to welcome us into His loving arms and to forgive our sins on account of Christ's sacrifice on the cross.
5. Meet at least weekly with other Christians.
Every child needs a loving and safe home, and every child of God needs a loving and safe church family. While it is certainly possible for a child to live on the streets, it is next to impossible for a child to thrive there. Likewise, it is possible for a person who doesn't attend church to be a Christian, but it is extremely difficult for a Christian to thrive apart from weekly worship with other believers. This is why God established the family, and why Christ instituted the church. No man is an island, and few people who are homeless or churchless are better off as a result of it.
If sports or other hobbies are allowed to dominate the family's weekend priorities, then children typically grow up to maintain those priorities. But it does't have to be that way. In the early church, "they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." (Acts 2:42)
We will lack the Holy Spirit's power in our hearts and homes unless we invest both quantity and quality time pursuing God's best for our family. Every child needs loving and dedicated parents. Likewise, a Christian is weakened if he or she "gives up meeting together" often with other Christians, "as some are in the habit of doing." (Heb. 10:25)
There are good reasons God designed it this way. He doesn't want us to go through life doing our own thing, while neglecting those who need our assistance. And in many cases, we discover that we need their support every bit as much as they need our time and attention. The family unit, like the church, was designed by God so that people not only receive care, but also provide care to others. This is how we grow, and how we learn to serve others rather than just to be served. A sense of entitlement develops within the human heart unless we are giving back to others after all we have received from our loving God.
So there you have it. Five things Tammy and I have found to be incredibly beneficial when it comes to raising children who love Jesus. I suspect you may have additional habits that proved to be helpful in your home. At the end of the day, we can all learn much from one another because we all still have much to learn.
Let's face it. All of us are imperfect, whether we are children, parents, single adults, married, etc. And so we might as well do the best we can by the grace of God, and leave the results up to the Lord.
After all, the Holy Spirit is the only One who can breathe the love of Jesus into our soul. And for this magnificent gift of God (John 4:10) that encourages and shapes the hearts of children, my wife and I will be eternally grateful.